Canadian Consulting Engineer | June 24, 2024
Grant Newfield, MEng, P.Eng., Struct.Eng. | Principal

With British Columbia’s decarbonization targets in mind, RJC Engineers principal Grant Newfield, P.Eng., is focusing on making buildings more sustainable. In March, updates to the B.C. Building and Fire Codes came into effect that allow for taller mass-timber buildings, up to 18 storeys. We spoke with Newfield about the significance of these changes.

How are code updates reflecting the increased use of mass timber?

For a long time, there was high public awareness of fires involving dimensional lumber in stick-frame buildings up to four or six storeys. Most of these fires occurred during construction, not after drywalling, but they gave wood a negative connotation.

When we started developing provisions for encapsulated mass timber, which came over from Europe in 2009 and 2010, we differentiated it from dimensional lumber because it performed very differently in a fire. One of mass timber’s intrinsic properties is it takes a long time to get ignited. It’s like when you put a big log into a fireplace with nothing else to start a fire. You can hold a torch to it, but you can’t get that big log going!

As mass-timber construction started to be demonstrated in buildings that met the same fire-safety requirements as for steel and concrete, people became comfortable with it and the public perception changed. Around 2019, the B.C. government mandated provisions to allow mass-timber construction up to 12 storeys, as part of a push to get more wood into buildings, both for sustainability reasons and to support the local forestry industry.

“One of mass timber’s intrinsic properties is it takes a long time to get ignited.”

Meanwhile, national codes were starting to move in the same direction to limit carbon emissions. The 2020 National Building Code (NBC) adopted B.C.’s provisions for encapsulated mass-timber construction up to 12 storeys. And now the 2023 B.C. Building Code, which has just been adopted, is in turn based on the 2020 NBC.

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